What’s new in Visual Studio LightSwitch 11 (LS VS vNext Beta) – a hacker’s view…

I need to write down my random thoughts on what just happened… 

Rumors got out a couple of days ago, but in case you missed it: Visual Studio LightSwitch 11 was released in public beta a couple of hours ago!

  • Download it – it’s no longer a separate download, but is included in the full Visual Studio 11 consumer preview.
  • Find out what’s new on the official LightSwitch team blog.

There will probably be more official content later today, and over the next few weeks, but let’s dive into the “what’s new” post together while the installer is running…  My blog post won’t list the new features, the official announcement covered that briefly but with just enough detail, instead, lets reflect a bit on how this will change our lives as LightSwitch newbies, experts, and hackers alike…

The LightSwitch team has been listening!

Some of us, including myself, had the amazing honor to meet Beth Massi in person, others used the Microsoft Connect site, to provide feedback to the team.

And they have been listening!

And not only have they been listening when we addressed them directly, but they have been listening when we blogged, tweeted, or even posted popular LightSwitch extensions that solve some common problems in LightSwitch v1… They have been listening!  So let’s continue, more than ever, to connect to the LightSwitch team, connect to each other, and enjoy how LightSwitch product and community becomes better and better over the years.

The result, is directly visible in LightSwitch 11.   The ability to define data relationships on external data, an easy way to add static text and images, new business types (web address and percentage), assigning roles on Active Directory groups to easy the user management pains, …

All of this is mainly for end-user-developers, which of course, includes us experts and hackers as well!  Really, besides exploring the technological wonders of LightSwitch, we use it to write applications too, right?  

Welcome LightSwitch as a first class citizen!

 What’s more, today marks the availability of Visual Studio 11 Beta

This, might be one of the most influencing novelties confirmed today.  LightSwitch is no longer (solely?) available as a separate download, but is included in the full-blown Visual Studio 11.  LightSwitch v1 primarily targeted “end-user-developers”, or at least – that’s how it often felt, and by including it in the full VS 11 package, Microsoft is clearly signalling that they haven’t, and will never, forget about us experts & hackers.

It’ll be a lot easier to convince other professional developers to give LightSwitch a second try, to convince them that it’s not “Access version 2″ (yes, one person literally asked me that… I politely giggled at his ignorance then, but am laughing out loud now!), if it’s already installed on their machines!

The fact that there is a next version of LightSwitch, and that it’s included in the full VS 11 suite, is also a clear acknowledgment that LightSwitch has a future, and that Microsoft is working hard on that future.  Who would have guessed that a billion dollar company wouldn’t release a product without a bigger plan? 

In the middle of all this “HTML5 and Metro”-hyping, a lot of people also wondered if LightSwitch wasn’t “dead before it even started”, because of using SilverLight as a front-end technology.  To be honest, the business doesn’t care much about front-end technology, but we, as professional developers, want to stay trendy and hip, and in a way, they gave us that with this release…  (Read on…)

Getting your data out of a LightSwitch application!

LightSwitch v1, included quite some options to get your ‘legacy’ data in a LightSwitch application – design it yourself, connect to an existing database, SharePoint, custom WCF RIA services, …  but apart from some custom excell exports, you could not get your data back out easily.

First, LightSwitch in VS11 has embraced OData. [...] adds first-class support for connecting your business applications to OData feeds. [...] But, we thought we’d spice things up more and turn our OData support on its head – in VS11, LightSwitch also makes is extremely easily to produce and deploy your own data as OData services.  This is both true for tables you define in your project as well as external data sources you connect to.  What this means is that the LightSwitch server pipeline [...] is no longer a closed black box – other apps can now leverage the simplicity and power of LightSwitch via the OData feeds it exposes.

So many ideas pop into my head…

  • Instead of LightSwitch connecting to other application’s data, other applications can now connect with greatest easy, to our LightSwitch application’s data.  For me, this takes LightSwitch away from the “tool that can connect to enterprise solutions”, right up there on the pedestal as the “application that is part of an enterprise solution”.
  • If you have some legacy apps, but don’t have the need to re-write them as a LightSwitch application, you can abuse LightSwitch to create an OData service for it.  Create a new LightSwitch application, connect to the database of the legacy app, don’t make any screens but instead, publish the LightSwitch OData service only.  Convert-legacy-to-future? Fastest tool to accomplish the job, right here!
  • If you are creating an application in another technology, it’s now really easy to access the data from your LightSwitch application using an industry standard.  PhP, JAVA, HTML5 (JavaScript), whatever your flavor, can interact with my LightSwitch application, without bypassing my business logic.  (You could already connect to the database of the LightSwitch application, if you wanted…)  
  • And last but not least… My personal favorite…  Since the LSML contains a definition of your screens (in other words: how your data should be presented) and OData services are available to interact with the data… What’s stopping us, as a community, to create a Windows Phone, WinRT, or HTML5 framework, based on the output created with the LightSwitch built-in editor?
In case you missed my tweet last week, my younger brother picked “using HTML5 as a front end for LightSwitch” as a topic for his (college) thesis.  His life just got a LOT easier…

So… Who’ll be the first to accomplish such a project?  Or does anyone want to start an open source project?  Who’s ready to dream with me, and make those dreams come true, thanks to the awesomeness, that is LightSwitch 11…

Now, if you will excuse me, the installer just prompted me to reboot my pc… I’ll probably be in the LightSwitch 11 zone during the next 48 hours straight, but please, leave a comment and tell me how you feel, or what your opinion is, on the beautiful gift we got today?   Merry Christmas, everyone!

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21 thoughts on “What’s new in Visual Studio LightSwitch 11 (LS VS vNext Beta) – a hacker’s view…

  1. Wonderful post, Jan! Yes, the OData support is huge.

    My biggest concern is scalability and reusability. Stuff like being able to reuse parts of LS screens and copy/cut/paste LSML with safe utility tools. Of course, being able to copy Screens between apps.

    I am also hoping that we will soon see component vendors create LS property pages for their SL controls . . . perhaps soon HTML5 controls.

    • Hey Garth,

      thanks for the kind words, I needed something to write while the installer was running, and I’m quite sure most people that read it were waiting for the installer as well.

      I’d also be really excited to see more “functional” stuff, from the LightSwitch team or component vendors… However, I do get the feeling that some people (yourself excluded) don’t understand how HUGE of an impact will have…
      Regards

      Jan

  2. Indeed, Its a gift from MS to all of us :) But I would love to get more insights on when you say “Since the LSML contains a definition of your screens (in other words: how your data should be presented) and OData services are available to interact with the data… What’s stopping us, as a community, to create a Windows Phone, WinRT, or HTML5 framework, based on the output created with the LightSwitch built-in editor?” where are you pointing? can we use the LSML output in some way to create WP, WinRT apps?

    • Hey Supreet,
      that’s exactly what I’m hinting at. Technically, there’s NO challenges stopping us now… (Except for one single issue in WP7, WinRT – but not in HTML solutions…)
      The sky is the limit, my friend

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  4. The OData in and out support is a pretty huge deal. I’ve only tested pulling OData sources into LS, which worked pretty well when I created a quick Netflix test app. It did complain about the lack of support for many-to-many relationships, but otherwise seemed to work fine.

    I’ve had to reorganize some paths and links, such as for WCF RIA services that were looking for files in ServerGenerated since there are no longer separate ServerGenerated and ClientGenerated subprojects.

    The fact that it’s targeting SL5 by default now is nice – no more having to manually edit the csproj, default.htm, and assembly references in order to consume SL5-only controls, yay!

    I also like that Visual Studio wasn’t asking me to reboot when I uninstalled and reinstalled some extensions. Minor thing, but nice.

    Next up I’ll be playing with the OData outbound… should be interesting :I like your idea of community created frameworks for other client platforms – would be fantastic to see that take off.

    • Hey Jewel!
      I didn’t know about the SL5 at the time of writing, but that will help me a LOT with my skinning extension that I’m writing.
      LightSwitch vanilla projects seem to require “minor” changes to be ported, indeed, but they seem to port quite fast.
      And as far as the OData is concerned… Well… The sky is the limit now!

  5. Nice… connecting to Lightswitch datasources via OData is easy. Just got one LS app connecting to Netflix’s OData service, then another LS app connecting to the first LS app’s OData interface for its Netflix data source. :P Silly test, but it’s good to see that this stuff seems pretty easy to hook up.

  6. //To be honest, the business doesn’t care much about front-end technology//

    I greatly disagree with this point Jan. Dev, Production & support are moving towards Mobile/Tablets (our company is one example). And LS’s SL front-end doesn’t allow me to create many of our Enterprise apps and deploy them.

    Hopefully some day LS will see its HTML lights!! :)

    • Hey Bala,
      you’re right, I was wrong to generalize “the business” like that. I too work in a major company, and our team creates a platform with Surface, tablet, WPF clients alike. The major business, does care.
      However, I do a lot of really small LightSwitch projects for companies that have anywhere from 1 to a dozen employees. With their budgets, they tend to care less about the front-end technology, than about the fact that they have software that solves their business issues, often the very next day after agreeing on the functionals… :-)
      LightSwith rocks! And it just rocked even more!

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